University of Southern Maine forward Marcus Christopher grabs a rebound during a game against the University of New England on Feb. 21 in Gorham. Photo provided by University of Southern Maine Athletics

Marcus Christopher just needed a break.

After a standout basketball and football career at Skowhegan Area High School, Christopher spent last year getting acclimated at the University of Maine. No sports, just studies.

But then the basketball bug bit him.

“Probably about a month in to UMaine last year, I was like ‘You know, I don’t really like it that much,’ and I already missed sports,” Christopher said. “But it was more of a mental thing that I needed a break from. With sports, it just mentally drained on me, and I was ready for a little bit of a break. But quickly and early last fall, I knew I was ready to play again. But I knew I was going to have to wait (until the following year to transfer and play).”

After exploring his options, Christopher left Orono and enrolled at the University of Southern Maine, where he made the men’s basketball team. In season-opening victories over the University of New England, Christopher averaged 10 points, grabbed 31 total rebounds, including 21 in a 62-60 win on Sunday.

“It took some getting used to and settling in a little bit,” Christopher said. “But it ended up being alright. It’s been two years since I played. (Last weekend) was almost two years exactly, I think. It was just great to be back out there. Basketball has always been my No. 1 (sport).”

Christopher added that the college game was an adjustment.

“I’ve played plenty of pickup, but nothing equates to the intensity — even without fans — of what a game is really like,” Christopher said. “So, kind of adjusting to the speed, especially of a college game comparatively to a high school game, definitely in the first half of the first game, definitely took some getting used to.”

Christopher has four years of athletic eligibility entering next season at USM because the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is not counting games played this season against student-athlete eligibility.

“Technically by credit, I’m a junior,” said Christopher, who is a business management major. “I’m a little bit accelerated, I’m like a year ahead. Kind of puts me in a predicament with what I want to do in the future… I technically could finish a bachelor’s (degree) by next spring. I’d be 20 still, and I could still play basketball until I’m 24, so it puts you in a tough situation with some decisions to make. I plan to get my master’s anyway, so I’ll probably just do that the year after and just take it slow.”

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USM wrestling coach Mike Morin recently added former standout Peter Del Gallo to the coaching staff.

“It’s definitely really good. I like it a lot, actually,” said Del Gallo, a Gardiner graduate, who will work with the lightweight wrestlers. “It’s definitely nice to transition from being a wrestler here and going through the program, getting a good relationship with the coaches and some of the guys who are still on the team. It’s nice to switch roles and get good experience here. The coaching (at USM), I really loved it, so it’s nice to stay here and get back to the program and learn from the coaches that made some of the best (wrestlers) in the country.

“I definitely always wanted to get into coaching. I definitely wanted to stay in high school (or) collegiate coaching. The opportunity presented itself here and I was like, ‘I might as well just stick to the program.’ It’s a great program and I love being here, I love the other coaches. It was a no-brainer for me.”

Gardiner graduate and former University of Southern Maine wrestler Peter Del Gallo is staying on with the Huskies as an assistant coach. Photo provided by University of Southern Maine athletics

Del Gallo, a four-time state champion and two-time New England champion, went 185-5 at Gardiner. He then flourished at USM, going 133-10. He was a three-time NCAA Division III tournament qualifier. The pandemic wiped out his shot at a fourth trip to the NCAAs last year. The Huskies hosted their first meet on Feb. 13, a 28-20 loss to Rhode Island College. USM will next wrestle Coast Guard (March 6) and at New England College (March 13).

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Some collegiate basketball programs across Maine opened play last weekend. The University of Maine at Augusta men’s basketball team pulled off a 67-65 come-from-behind victory over the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

Down by seven at halftime, the Moose outscored the Owls 35-26 in the second half, taking the lead with just 9.6 seconds remaining. It was the first win for UMA head coach Jason Coleman.

“It was our first time going 5-on-5 live,” said Coleman, who previously was director of recruiting at the University of Maine and coach of the Orono High School boys basketball team (2011-2018). “Obviously, we’re not allowed to practice in the (Augusta Civic Center) right now because it’s a vaccine site. It showed early on, we were down 9-0 real quick. We settled in, got used to spacing and playing together on the floor. The guys fought back well… It was nice to finish that off.”

With the Augusta Civic Center used as a COVID-19 vaccination site, the game was played at UMA-Bangor campus. The ACC was also previously tied up for state meetings, leaving the Moose — who have been practicing since September — using the Augusta Armory as their practice facility.

The University of Maine at Augusta men’s basketball team huddle around a play head coach Jason Coleman draws up during a game Sunday against the University of Maine at Presque Isle in Bangor. UMA won the game 67-65. It was Coleman’s first win as head coach. Photo provided by the University of Maine at Augusta Athletics

Coleman was hired as the UMA head coach in July, after the Moose finished the 2019-2020 season 4-21. Coleman had eight weeks to recruit players. The current roster is a diverse blend of talent from the United States and beyond, with one player (guard Fred Martinez) from Puerto Rico and two others (forward Jovan Sisovic and guard Matija Andjelkovic) from Serbia.

“The one positive from COVID was there were a lot of guys who missed out on showcase opportunities, junior college showcases, that wouldn’t have been available in a regular year,” Coleman said. “Using my time at Maine and the contacts I had from being at Maine, I was able to reach out and find some guys that fit what we were looking for academically and fit the part athletically. They’ve hit it off great.”

Coleman said the Moose will focus on building toward the future. UMA has games scheduled with the University of New England in Biddeford, St. Joseph’s College in Standish, UMaine-Fort Kent and Colby College in Waterville.

“On paper, we like what we have,” Coleman said. “But we want to see what’s missing, what we’re good at, what we need to build on in the offseason, get actual game footage to see where we stand with our competition. Not only in-state, but also some of our conference foes who have a common opponent.”

Likewise, the UMA women’s basketball team also played its first game of the season Saturday, falling 87-69 to UMPI at UMA-Bangor. UMA head coach Jim Seavey was thrilled to have the team back on the floor playing meaningful basketball.

“It was good, it was really good,” Seavey said. “When you start practicing in early October and don’t play a game until late February, that’s a long time on the court without any rewards. The games a lot of times are the reward.”

With a roster of no seniors, three juniors (Madison graduate Sydney LeBlanc, Brunswick grad Madeline Suhr and Cassidy Lessner) and the remainder of the group being sophomores and freshmen — all of whom retain their year of eligibility for next year — Seavey has kept the focus of practices on skill set development with his players, including a lot of shooting.

“The plus side of us, I don’t have any seniors on this roster,” Seavey said. “They don’t lose a year of eligibility, and I don’t have any seniors to begin with. We’ve really started to do some things that I think, a year from now, will pay off for us on the court, once we get into competition and back into a somewhat of a normal/regular routine.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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